WaR Review – Ordinary Grace

On Tuesday, September 9th, 2014, the In Print Writers as Readers Book Club met to discuss William Kent Krueger’s Edgar Award-winning novel Ordinary Grace. It was our first anniversary and the first time that everyone liked the assigned book. We agreed that Krueger’s writing was clear and straight-forward with convincing dialogue and wonderful visuals. A few of us saw the similarities between this book and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Body by Stephen King (which was made into the movie “Stand by Me”).

Ordinary Grace is set in:

“New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” (Book Synopsis)

Told somewhat effectively from Frank’s point of view, the untimely deaths of five people force Frank and his younger bother Jake to deal with many societal issues at young ages. I had a problem with Krueger’s continue use of Frank’s eavesdropping as a tool to keep the story in Frank’s point of view in pivotal scenes, but others weren’t bothered by this technique.

Ordinary Grace received the Edgar Award in 2013. This award is given by the Mystery Writers of America for best mystery. With this in mind, we discussed the basic elements of mystery: a murder and a quest to find the killer. Krueger includes these elements in his novel, the story begins when the body of Frank’s classmate is found, but the book is about much more than that–relationships, faith, betrayal, prejudice, and the effects of war. Because of this, several of us wouldn’t have classified this book as a mystery.

As a mystery, a few members found it too predictable. We agreed that if this book had been written twenty years ago, the revelations would have been more surprising. However, before revealing his characters’ secrets, Krueger described the scenes in detail, slowing the pace, which was very effective.

We all agreed that Krueger captured the era of the early 1960s well. We reminisced about eating Campbell’s Tomato Soup with grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner and the freedom we had as children.

On September 12th, four members went to see William Kent Krueger at the Mystery to Me Bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. He and Libby Fisher Hellman discussed their books in front of a large crowd. We were excited to hear that Mr. Krueger is working on a companion book to Ordinary Graces!